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India and Myanmar relations: Change in dynamics by democratic triumph

After decades of struggle, finally democracy triumphed over military junta and Myanmar parliament enters democratic era after 54 years of military rule. It’s time to glance over India-Myanmar relations and how India will be benefited from such stable democratic government.

India and Myanmar have traditionally had much in common, with cultural, historical, ethnic and religious ties, in addition to sharing a long geographical land border and maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Let’s see it in brief!

How did India and Myanmar engagement begin ?

  • Myanmar is India’s bridge to east, and an important ally for growing its regional power.
  • India and Myanmar’s relationship officially got underway after the Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1951.
  • For many years, India did not open up to the authoritarian regime, and it was only over a period of time that India started engaging with the military junta of Myanmar.
  • The region’s focus has revolved around the SAARC countries and China, Myanmar is becoming increasingly important for India in both a strategic and economic context.

What about bilateral trade ties?

  • Bilateral trade has grown from $12.4 million in 1980-81 to $2.18 billion in 2013-14.
  • Agricultural items like beans and pulses and forest based products make up nearly 90 percent of India’s imports.
  • Myanmar is also the beneficiary of a duty-free tariff preference scheme for least developed countries (LDCs).
  • Both countries also signed a border trade agreement in 1994 and have 2 trade points along their 1,643 km border.
  • India has also promoted some trade events such as the India Product Show 2012, which represented 19 Indian companies.

But, How shared cultural links promote unique relations between both countries?

  • The two countries have shared cultural exchanges through various cultural troupes.
  • One such exchange was in 2009 when Myanmar sent a 13 member student group that attended a SAARC cultural festival in India.
  • This was followed by another major event at which the Indian embassy in Yangon organized the annual Indian Film Festival, which is a major event on the Yangon cultural calendar.

Does India have historical bond with Myanmar?

  • Yes! Yangon was once a center for India’s independence struggle.
  • The Indian National Army (INA), formed by Indian nationalists during World War II in 1942 with the motto of Ittehad, Itmad aur Qurbani (Unity, Faith and Sacrifice).
  • Comprised over 40,000 soldiers, who fought valiantly against the British imperialist forces.
  • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose became leader of the INA in 1943 and undertook a groundbreaking march towards Indian territories from Burmese soil with the aim of achieving Indian independence.<This time we can expect question on Netaji and his work, as we know current happenings about Netaji’s files declassified>
  • General Aung San, Burma’s independence hero, was a close friend of Netaji, the supreme commander of the INA.
  • That friendship was reflected in cordial relationship between the soldiers of the INA and their counterparts in the Burmese National Army (BNA).
  • So, it’s good to use this historical bond for building more coherent and strong relations with Myanmar.

How Myanmar is Strategically significant to India?

  • Myanmar is strategically important to India as it is the only ASEAN country that shares a land border with India.
  • It is also the only country that can act as a link between India and ASEAN.
  • Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia and could be the required impetus to realize India’s Look East Policy.
  • India has also decided to upgrade the Kalewa-Yargyi road segment to highway standard.
  • Myanmar would develop the Yargyi-Monywa portion, and this would help to connect Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar.
  • This in turn would improve India’s connectivity and relationship with both Myanmar and Thailand.

How can India become regional pivot in Asia?

  • If India is to become an assertive regional player in Asia, it has to work toward developing policies that would improve and strengthen it domestically.
  • This will encourage more confidence in its ability to lead the region and be an important global player.
  • Competition with China should also be considered and taken seriously. As China’s growing influence in the region would lead to a more one-sided dynamic in the region.
  • China has asserted itself through its soft power as well as through its trade and economic relations with Myanmar by taking up large infrastructure projects in the country.
  • India on the other hand needs to use its soft power more effectively, and at the same time strengthen itself domestically and regionally.

What are advantages that India has over China with regard to Myanmar?

  • One is the democratic process, which results in different governments at the center and states through free and fair elections.
  • There is also the respect for institutions that are strong enough to hold the country together.
  • Finally, cooperation in different multilateral forums such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC strengthen the relationship between the 2 countries.
  • Apart from these reasons, India has sent a clear signal that while economic ties are important, it is keen to build a holistic relationship and is prepared to assist in institution building in Myanmar.

What is the significance of Connectivity in India-Myanmar Relations? 

<How North-Eastern region can play vital role in this?>

  • Myanmar’s vast oil and natural gas reserves and other resources make it a natural partner for many countries in the world.
  • India, being its next door neighbour, cannot be indifferent to this reality.
  • Besides, geo-political considerations, historical and civilizational links, and the ethnic overlap across their borders, have all come together to make India’s North-East the land bridge between the South and South-East Asia through Myanmar.
  • The 1,640 km-long border between Myanmar and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram signifies the importance of this eastern neighbour for India.
  • India expects to reap various economic benefits by bolstering bilateral trade and investment, which critically depends upon better connectivity in the region.

How bilateral cooperation agreement gives impetus to India’s Look-East Policy?

  • The strategic location of Myanmar is pivotal to India in reaching out to the economically vibrant South-East Asian countries.
  • India’s Look-East Policy envisages building infrastructure and expanding the transportation network including railroads, aimed at furthering surface connectivity in the region.
  • It is recognized that in addition to more economic contacts, such connectivity will promote social stability in the region by facilitating people-to-people contact amongst trans-border ethnic groups.
  • It is expected that insurgent outfits would lose their recruitment base once the local resources begin to be exploited and employment is generated leading to overall development. 
  • Concrete economic benefits are expected to come up in the region with establishment of border haats.
  • In addition, internal trade routes have the potential to enhance accessibility to sub-regional markets that connect Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.

Way forward

  • The basic foundation for the relationship between India and Myanmar has been laid by previous governments, the onus is on the present Indian administration to demonstrate that it can take the relationship to a higher level.
  • India can become a strong regional player through a more proactive approach, cement India’s place in the region and grow into a powerful, global country.



Published with inputs from Arun

Any doubts?

India, Myanmar agree to enhance ties in a range of areas, including security and trade

  1. Event: Aung San Suu Kyi’s first visit to India after her party won the election in Myanmar
  2. Agreements: The two sides signed three agreements to boost cooperation in power, banking and insurance sectors
  3. They also decided to step up ties in areas of oil and gas, agriculture, renewable energy and health care
  4. Myanmar, considered one of India’s strategic neighbours, shares a 1,640-km-long border with a number of northeastern States, including the militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur

History of Ethnic insurgency in Myanmar- II

  1. Main armed groups: Karen, Kachin, Shan and Wa
  2. The first uprising launched by ethnic Karen insurgents began shortly after independence & since then other ethnic groups have also taken up arms
  3. Skirmishes, particularly in northern zones where Kachin insurgents are fighting the army, have displaced more than 100,000 civilians since 2011 alone
  4. At least 100,000 more have sought refuge in squalid camps in neighboring Thailand, and are unlikely to return home until true peace takes hold
  5. The rebel armies control a patchwork of remote territories rich in jade and timber that are located mostly in the north and east along the borders with China and Thailand

History of Ethnic insurgency in Myanmar- I

  1. Why the fight? Various ethnic groups, for decades, have been fighting for autonomy while resisting Burmanisation
  2. Burmanisation: A push by the Burman ethnic majority to propagate its language, religion and culture in ethnic minority regions
  3. Panglong Agreement, 1947: Brokered by Ms. Suu Kyi’s late father, independence hero Gen. Aung San
  4. The deal granted ethnic minorities autonomy and the right to secede if they worked with the federal government to break away from Britain together
  5. Aung San was assassinated the following year and the deal fell apart
  6. Since then, ethnic groups have accused successive, mostly military, governments of failing to honour the 1947 pact, just before Myanmar gained independence from Britain the next year

Myanmar holds historic peace talks with ethnic groups

  1. Aim: Ending decades of separatist insurgencies that have claimed thousands of lives
  2. Context: Fight of ethnic groups since decades for autonomy
  3. Background: The previous military-backed government brokered individual truces with various insurgent groups and oversaw a ceasefire covering eight minor insurgencies last year that fell short of a nationwide deal

Myanmar swears in first civilian President in five decades

  1. News: Myanmar has sworn in Htin Kyaw, as the country’s first civilian President in more than 50 years
  2. He promises to change the charter which bars Suu Kyi from presidency
  3. Ms. Suu Kyi has been appointed as a minister in Mr. Htin Kyaw’s government
  4. Future: There is a hope of greater business with India, under a popularly elected leader and govt

Myanmar parliament elects Suu Kyi confidant Htin Kyaw as President

  1. News: Myanmar’s parliament elected Htin Kyaw, a close friend and confidant of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the first Head of State
  2. Context: Ms. Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide election win in Nov, but a constitution drafted by former junta bars her from the top office
  3. About Mr. Kyaw: He runs a charity founded by Suu Kyi and has been a trusted member of her inner circle since the mid-1990s
  4. Relevance: NLD’s sizeable majority ensured a comfortable win for Suu Kyi’s pick in a vote by both houses of parliament
  5. Secured Votes: Mr. Kyaw received 360 of the 652 votes cast, the parliamentary official counting the votes said
  6. Way ahead: Relations between the armed forces and Ms. Suu Kyi will define the success of Myanmar’s most significant break from military rule since the army seized power in 1962

Cabinet nod for building 69 bridges on trilateral highway in Myanmar

The Union Cabinet has approved the construction of 69 Bridges including Approach Roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar.

  1. Cabinet nod for building 69 bridges on trilateral highway in Myanmar.
  2. TKK road section seeks to improve connectivity between India and Myanmar and facilitate movement of goods and traffic.
  3. The project will be implemented in Engineering Procuring and Construction (EPC) mode through Project Management Consultant (PMC).
  4. The project is envisaged to be completed by mid-2019 and is also part of the route for the proposed Imphal-Mandalay bus service.

Aung San Suu Kyi registers an emphatic win in Myanmar

  1. A quarter century after Myanmar’s generals denied Aung San Suu Kyi an election win, she led her party to victory.
  2. Suu Kyi, 70, and her party (NLD) are the longtime antagonists to the generals who ruled Myanmar from a coup in 1962 until 2011.

Union Cabinet gives approval for Kaladan Multi Modal Project in Myanmar

It will provide an alternate access route to India’s north east region and contribute towards the regional economic development.

  1. Objective is to create a multi-modal mode of transport for cargo shipment from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar.
  2. The strategic link will promote economic, commercial and strategic links between India and Myanmar as it will connect North-East, reducing pressure on the Siliguri Corridor.
  3. Project will connect Sittwe Port in Myanmar to the India-Myanmar border via roadway.
  4. It will provide alternative cost effective shortcut to landlocked north eastern states.

MHA, JIC chief differ on Myanmar border security

  1. There are some differences between MHA and Joint Intelligence Committee on the handling of security along the porous Myanmar border.
  2. JIC has suggested that the Assam Rifles, which is currently posted along the Myanmar border, be replaced by the ITBP.
  3. The Home Ministry has said that the could have serious financial and security-related implications.
  4. India and Myanmar share an unfenced border of 1,643 km permit a ‘free movement’ regime up to 16 km across the border.
  5. The border is shared by adjoining Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.


The Assam Rifles functions under the Defence Ministry, but its administrative control is with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Myanmar operation: Hot pursuit a message to all

  1. Indian Army carried out a covert operation deep inside Myanmar, killing several militants in two camps of northeastern rebel groups.
  2. Myanmar denied use of their border, as it could cause a controversy for the Myanmar government over sovereignty issues.
  3. The commandos of 21 Para regiment, equipped with assault rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and night vision goggles completed the operation.
  4. Govt. is planning to adopt a two-pronged strategy, first on offensive side to plan more strikes and other being defensive to counter retaliation.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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